Similar to meditation, cardiac coherence has many positive effects on health. This method of relaxation in particular makes it easier to fall asleep. How do we practice it? Is it effective for everyone?
A typical cardiac coherence exercise involves inhaling for five seconds, then exhaling for the same amount of time (for a 10-second respiratory cycle). Biofeedback devices make it possible to observe on a screen how this deep, regular breathing slows and stabilizes the beats.
Recommended by the French Federation of Cardiology, cardiac coherence is a breathing method highlighted in France by Dr David O’Hare several years ago. The principle is simple: the heart adapts its beats to its environment thanks to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The first is related to stress, to daily life, the second is related to rest and energy recovery.
What is cardiac coherence?
It regulates your nervous system. “When we breathe in, we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which stimulates the stress hormone cortisol and increases the heart rate,” explains Dr. David O’Hare, general practitioner. Conversely, when exhaling, the heart rate slows down. “If we take control of breathing, we can, through willpower, speed up or slow down the heart rate and bring our autonomous nervous system into balance.”
The key to a more restful sleep
Many people nowadays say they suffer from sleep disorders. This is due to stress, exposure to blue light through screens, and anxiety. “In this context, we easily enter the vicious circle of insomnia,” explains Aurélie Meyer-Mazel, clinical psychologist. The less we sleep, the less we can manage our stress. Cortisol levels increase and so our sleep cycles are disrupted. For the psychologist, taking a break, closing your eyes, taking a deep breath helps break this circle.
“Practicing cardiac coherence daily improves sleep in less than a month,” says Dr O’Hare. Thanks to this method, the time to fall asleep is reduced and the quality of deep sleep is better. For those who suffer from insomnia, their disorders improve with this technique of falling asleep. Finally, deep breathing exercises would have benefits on sleep and stress management in people working at night, or the ones with chaotic working hours.
How to practice cardiac coherence?
The goal of deep breathing exercises is to slow down the breathing, and then gradually increase the time allowed for exhalation. To start with, the famous 3-6-5 method consists in performing, 3 times a day, 6 breathing cycles, for 5 minutes. Each cycle breaks down into 5 seconds of inhalation and 5 seconds of exhalation. The doctor recommends at least 3 sessions per day: upon awakening, at bedtime, and during the day because guided breathing promotes calm, appeasement, or stress reduction. Aurélie Meyer-Mazel recommends taking a “cardiac coherence” break regularly. It’s up to you whether you want to close your eyes or keep them open in a calm atmosphere.
It does not apply to all
This method of breathing can sometimes be uncomfortable. “Some patients complain of impatience, hyperventilation, dizziness… Nothing is more normal during an initiation than meditation,” reassures Dr O’Hare. In this case, it is advisable to end the exercise, and to retry the experience later. Be careful, however, not to take “discomfort” as “expressions of the parasympathetic nervous system”: yawning or babbling are completely normal and the sign of entering a state of cardiac coherence.